Some fissures appearing as Canadiens limp to season’s finish line

 

 
 
 
 
Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov and Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne watch the puck go into the net past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price on a goal by Flyers' Erik Gustafsson during first period NHL hockey action Monday, April 15, 2013 in Montreal.
 

Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov and Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne watch the puck go into the net past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price on a goal by Flyers' Erik Gustafsson during first period NHL hockey action Monday, April 15, 2013 in Montreal.

Photograph by: Paul Chiasson, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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MONTREAL — Last Saturday night in Toronto, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price apologized to his teammates after having been lit up for three first-period goals on four Maple Leafs shots, yanked midway through the first period.

Monday, back at the Bell Centre, it would have been appropriate for Price’s defencemen to repay the gesture and express to the goalie their regret at having met Price’s bad game and raised him a brutal one.

For the second consecutive game, Price wasn’t around to finish what he started, given the hook by Therrien after 40 minutes, beaten six times on 29 shots. It marked the first time in the netminder’s 305-game NHL career that he’s been relieved in straight games.

Forty-two matches into this lockout-shortened season, Montreal — and the club’s fan base far and wide — is melting down. An overreaction, yes, but some fissures have opened in this team.

Imagine if the Canadiens were currently parked in, say, eighth or ninth place, fighting for their playoff lives, rather than safely berthed in the post-season. We’d be talking revolt in the streets.

Monday’s 7-3 loss to the visiting Philadelphia Flyers was a mess whether you wanted to use a shovel or a spatula to scrape it up.

Only once before during this season have the Canadiens suffered consecutive regulation-time defeats. Somehow, losing March 23 and 26 at home to Buffalo and then in Pittsburgh didn’t have the same dagger feel.

How’s this for a stat? The Canadiens had two hits — two — through the first 40 minutes Monday. Zero hits in the second period. They finished with 11.

The defence, without knee-ruptured Alexei Emelin, suddenly is showing age, aches and pains. Francis Bouillon wrapped up his night at minus-3. Fellow veteran Andrei Markov, who’s showing considerable wear and tear after 41 games, was minus-2.

Do you think that Raphael Diaz, who has now sat out 23 games with a concussion, figured his eventual return would be almost in the role of saviour?

Diaz skated with his teammates Monday morning, the first time he’s done so since he went down Feb. 25 against Ottawa, and reports he’s feeling better by the day. There’s still no timetable for his return.

“We’ve just got to buckle down and go back to playing the way we have,” captain Brian Gionta said. “We’ll climb out of it for sure.”

Brendan Gallagher, who scored the 13th goal of his rookie season, wasn’t buying the theory that the Habs are suffering a letdown after last week having earned a playoff berth.

“There’s still so much to play for. There still should be a lot of motivation,” he said. “I don’t sense that we’re a satisfied group, we’ve just got away from what we did to be successful earlier in the year.

“We still believe in each other in this locker room. We’re still going to come to the rink tomorrow and try to find a solution.”

There was no analysis offered nor sought from Price, who suffered badly from a glaring lack of support against the Flyers — not that he again wasn’t beaten by at least one he’d like to have back.

If Price didn’t have much of a chance on Philly’s first goal, his five-hole was roughly a five-canyon on the Flyers’ second. A 50-foot wrister by Erik Gustafsson through his pads brought out the Bronx cheer — albeit an uninspired one — when the netminder corralled a long dump-in midway through the first.

Price was sharp the rest of the opening 20 minutes, making several big stops while his teammates were handily outshot 17-8. But at 6-3 after two periods, the defence by now playing a lot of tourist, Therrien went to Peter Budaj to mop up in relief.

The coach shortened his bench not by choice early on this night. Fourth-line forward Ryan White today can expect a call, at the very least, from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for having locked his discipline in the trunk of his car.

And this might have far-reaching impact for the 25-year-old.

White cruised long and straight, and dangerously high, into Flyers’ Kent Huskins, levelling the defenceman and concussing him, according to Philly general manager Paul Holmgren.

The frightening hit touched off a bit of a melee that ultimately saw White earn a major for the headshot, a major for subsequently fighting Philly’s Kurtis Foster, and a match penalty.

White’s best-before date with the Canadiens might be reading like the yogurt you just discovered in the back of your fridge. He’s a likeable, hard-working kid who’ll skate through the boards for you, but two serious, team-costly brain cramps this season buried him in Therrien’s doghouse for a total of seven games.

This latest incident may have played him out of town, a restricted free agent at season’s end who likely has slipped down GM Marc Bergevin’s list of priorities.

But White was the least of the Canadiens concerns Monday, this erstwhile smooth-sailing boat suddenly having sprung a bit of a troubling leak.

At least things get easier on Wednesday when they head into Pittsburgh to face the Penguins.

Oh, right …

dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

Twitter:@Dave_Stubbs

 
 
 
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Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov and Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne watch the puck go into the net past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price on a goal by Flyers' Erik Gustafsson during first period NHL hockey action Monday, April 15, 2013 in Montreal.
 

Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov and Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne watch the puck go into the net past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price on a goal by Flyers' Erik Gustafsson during first period NHL hockey action Monday, April 15, 2013 in Montreal.

Photograph by: Paul Chiasson, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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